The Last Dance: 5 Thoughts on the Season Finale
The 2020–2021 Timberwolves basketball season has finally come to a close. It is a bittersweet moment for fans as the difficult season ends just as their favorite team was rounding into form. The season ending spurt is a harbinger of things to come for this young team, and it was capped off with a rousing and dominating win over the playoff-bound Mavericks. The Wolves scored early and often to build a lead and never looked back as Dallas seemed disinterested in playing defense. The end result was a 136–121 win that paid off the loyal fans that have stuck around all season long. Here are 5 thoughts after the Wolves’ season finale:
***Author’s Note: This is obviously the last postgame article for this season, but stick around balleyesnorth.com! We’ll have some NBA Playoffs content, and of course write out thoughts and ideas for the Wolves as they go though the NBA offseason.***
The rest of the NBA should hope Anthony Edwards wins the Rookie of the Year award. In the past I have written that I do not have a strong opinion regarding who should win the Rookie of the Year award. No one can really agree on the criteria, and it seems to be a mostly “narrative-driven” award unless there is a blatantly obvious choice. This year it seems like the national narrative has been firmly planted on LaMelo Ball winning the award, with Anthony Edwards’ dazzling finish to the season putting him in a comfortable 2nd place. The other teams in the league should hope that does not happen, for their own sake. If we have learned one thing from the 2nd half of Ant’s rookie season, it is that the only one who can stop Anthony Edwards is himself. There are seemingly no limits to the feats that he can accomplish on the basketball court, and the rate at which he progressed from a completely raw and “losing” player to one of this team’s cornerstone figures in his age 19 season should be alarming to the rest of the league. If he gets the award, MAYBE he takes it easy on the rest of the league next year as he feels like he proved his value (Although it does seem like Ant is more internally motivated). Ant would certainly still progress, but he may not have that chip on his shoulder that one can only gain by being slighted. Give the award to LaMelo, and Ant may attack this offseason wanting to get better in every facet of the game and come out of the gates next year looking to prove everyone wrong. If that is the case, good luck NBA. You will have created a 20 year old monster that will set out to terrorize the league for the next 12+ years. In his season finale, Ant decided he would put a cool 30 points on the Dallas Mavericks, capping off his season with an enormous dunk in transition that has become the norm for him. He authored his final chapter against Luka Dončić and a Mavericks team that will be seeing a lot of him for the next decade. This game was his parting message to the league as if to say: “I’ll see you soon.”
That Wolves win felt like a long TV series coming to an end where every main character’s story is wrapped up cleanly. Obviously it is all relative, as the team was finishing a 23 win season and locked in the 6th worst record in the league, but it felt like a celebratory night all around. It started with Jaden McDaniels being aggressive on offense and defense, finishing with 19 points and frustrating Luka Dončić all over the court. This performance highlighted the incredible potential Jaden has relative to the expectations for him coming into the season. This one leaves us all salivating for more. KAT and DLo, the resident elders (I guess) in this team’s group of core players each poured in 23 points. Towns did his scoring efficiently with 23 on only 12 shots. DLo got his points in his usual “gunning” style taking 19 shots to get there, but also added 10 assists seemingly picking apart the Mavs lackluster defense with rocket passes all over the court. His final two assists created an Ant slam in transition and got KAT to dunk on Boban Marjanović off of a pick and roll. A classic KAT and DLo night that we hope to see for years to come. Naz Reid, a fan favorite for life, never missed from the field going 7–7 for 17 points and drilled all 3 of his 3pt. attempts while showing off his nifty footwork to beat bigger defenders in the paint. Ant poured in 30 exhilarating points, Jarred Vanderbilt had 3 steals and 12 rebounds in 24 minutes, Ricky Rubio had 7 assists, and Josh Okogie played some of the most incredible point of attack defense I have ever seen. Up and down the roster the Wolves’ rotation players did what they do best, and it all added up to a dominating win. It was just a taste of how fun this team can be when all of the pieces fit.
Jarred Vanderbilt played himself into a role on this team down the stretch. There was a sequence of 8 games in early April where Vanderbilt only played a few minutes in 2 of those games, and was a DNP in the other 6. It seemed he was essentially out of Chris Finch’s rotation, and for many Wolves fans he was not considered part of this team’s future. Since the end of that stretch of games in mid-April, JV has played nearly 20 minutes per game and has filled the stat sheet with rebounds, steals, and blocks while shooting over 61% from the field. He has formed a formidable pairing with both Naz Reid and Karl-Anthony Towns as the power forward (emphasis on power) next to those guys in the front court with his frenetic and versatile defense. Jarred has improved enough in areas of weakness for him this season that it would seem prudent to keep the 22 year old ball of energy around for the future. He will be a restricted free agent so there is a chance that another team could make him an offer this offseason, but with many teams light on cap space and not wanting to pay big men I would bet that Jarred lands back here in Minnesota with the Timberwolves. This is also likely where he sees the best opportunity for minutes next season and beyond as well. While the Wolves have their 2 centers already in place (Towns & Reid), they do not have any other players who project to stay in the power forward rotation for the long haul, assuming Jaden McDaniels is a wing player long term. It just so happens that the two centers that he would play alongside have some deficiencies that Jarred can clean up. Vando is a fearless rebounder, and his relentlessness and defensive versatility covers up some of the potential mobility and rim protection issues that Towns and Reid could face. Even if the Wolves are able to acquire another big man in the offseason to add to the rotation, it is likely that Vanderbilt would receive minutes in most games and will be 1st in line to play heavy minutes should injuries occur. If the money is right, the Wolves should keep Jarred Vanderbilt in town. If they had any doubt, they should watch the tape of the season’s final game. He set the tone against the Mavericks from the beginning by skying for rebounds and immediately getting 2 steals in the 1st quarter. That is the type of energy and effort that can galvanize a team. I look forward to a few more years of Vando revving his engines here in Minnesota.
Keeping this team together turned out to be the right decision. The Wolves were 10–34 at the trade deadline this season. While they had shown some flashes coming out of the All Star break, they were still heading in the wrong direction. Gersson Rosas and the Wolves front office had every right to start blowing things up and selling off any assets that could bring back future value. Specifically Malik Beasley, Ricky Rubio, Juancho Hernangomez, or Jarred Vanderbilt could have been included in deals. Rosas likely did not get a requisite offer and resisted the temptation to make a trade just to shake things up. That would have been the last thing that the team needed as they had been through complete roster shakeups and lack of personnel consistency for more than a year. Through the final 2 months of the season after the deadline, the Wolves went 13–15 and the team chemistry that had been forged during the trials and tribulations of the 1st half of the season was a large factor. Up and down the roster each player seemed committed to complimenting and hyping up their teammates. Max contract guys like DLo and KAT could have easily placed blame on their less talented teammates, but instead spent the end of the season proclaiming how bright the team’s future is and campaigning for Anthony Edwards’ Rookie of the Year candidacy. A previously downtrodden Ricky Rubio who spent the 1st half of the season seeming depressed and discontent with the Wolves performances was suddenly heaping praise on the young players, specifically Ant, in postgame interviews. Young guns on the team like Vanderbilt and McDaniels talked about the leadership of guys like KAT, DLo, and Rubio throughout a trying season, and their year-long improvement put some weight behind their compliments. None of this happens if Rosas hits the “reset” button on a last place team at the trade deadline. They likely head into the offseason similarly to last year; as a bunch of players that were thrown together to try to make it work. The Wolves are not like that this year. Their season finale was some of the most joyous basketball that a Timberwolves team has displayed in years. They took pleasure in assisting one another’s buckets, celebrated dunks and blocks, and high-fived and hugged after the game like they had won a playoff game and not game 72 of a 23 win season. Changes may come in the offseason, but keeping the team together was the right call to start developing that “Family Culture” that we have heard so much about.
We will remember this Timberwolves season for a very long time. Especially if it turns out to be the start of a special stretch of basketball for the team. The 20–21 season was a rollercoaster ride. Fans felt emotions all across the board throughout the year. From the feeling of promise after a 2–0 start turning to disappointment when Towns got injured to the frustration of the subsequent long losing streak. Then the excitement of Towns’ return followed nearly immediately with sadness and worry after his Covid diagnosis. The sadness, frustration, and general apathy carried on for awhile as the Wolves plummeted to the bottom of the standings and showed no hope of climbing out. When Ryan Saunders was fired the emotions turned more to confusion with fans wondering if this team had any coherent path forward. After the All Star break and the trade deadline, fans started to grasp a feeling that is all too familiar: Hope. It was cautious hope, but there was certainly reason to believe it was real. Especially after the ecstasy of Anthony Edwards’ 1st 42 point game in a win at Phoenix. A depleted Wolves roster took down one of the league’s best teams, and suddenly the hope turned into promise and assuredness that there is something special brewing here. Wolves veterans like KAT and DLo have fueled our fire by continually waxing about the bright future that this team has, and their desire to be a part of it. Finally Wolves fans have this feeling that all will be well again. The right coach is in place, the young core is bursting with potential, and the whole organization seems to be rowing in the same direction. Good vibes are all around, and Wolves fans that are on this rollercoaster of emotions can count on that ride going up for the foreseeable future. We will remember the 20–21 season for a plethora of reasons, but fans will look back fondly if this is truly the beginning of something special.